Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has reportedly blasted President Obama’s Syria policy. Behind the scenes, Hagel sent a two-page memo to Obama national security adviser Susan Rice. In it, he assailed the dysfunctional policy toward Syria.
The memo was sent last week to President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, a defence official said on Thursday, confirming a New York Times report.
The memo was cited in the Times article by Hagel’s aides as an example of how the Pentagon chief is more assertive behind the scenes than his reserved public performance might suggest.
Hagel warned that the Syria policy was “in danger of unraveling” due to confusion over the US stance toward Assad, the paper wrote.
The Obama administration has focused on defeating the Islamic State group in Iraq first, and described US-led air strikes in Syria as a way of disrupting the jihadists’ supply lines.
Washington also plans to arm and train a group of 5,000 “moderate” Syrian rebels, but has not committed to attacking Assad regime forces that threaten moderate rebel fighters.
Obama’s Syria policy is a mess, but the decision not to attack Assad isn’t its main problem at this point. And frankly, now that the ISIS horse is out of the barn, we don’t really have any good options.
Attack Assad, you invite his allies Iran and Russia in to defend him one way or another, and if you take him out you may be creating a vacuum into which ISIS can move and grow stronger. So, you weaken Russia and Iran economically by dropping the price of oil. The Saudis are doing that, but so far, Iran and Russia haven’t gotten any less belligerent. They’re not any less likely to find ways to defend their ally, especially if doing so damages us.
Leave Assad alone, and he has a free hand to attack our allies on the ground. Arm the rebels, and odds are at least some of them are not so moderate, and are in fact Islamist, and have allied with ISIS — or soon will. The Kurds on the Syria-Turkey border are putting up a brave fight, but making them too strong invites action against them by Turkey. Not that Turkey would be in the right from our point of view.
So let’s attack both Assad and ISIS. They won’t work together, but soon enough we’re in the middle of Syria’s civil war, fighting ISIS on one hand and Assad (plus Iranian and Russian proxies or actual forces) on the other. That’s a recipe for us to get bogged down, while starting a world war. And that’s even if we don’t put boots on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Obama regime seems to be greenlighting Iran’s nuclear program while it alienates our strongest ally in the region, Israel.
Our best bet at this point seems to be to drive ISIS out of Iraq and keep it out. Its supply lines in Iraq are tenuous and can be disrupted. Its hold on most of its Iraqi territory is weak, though it does retain some popularity among the Sunni. You put Syria’s civil war back in Syria, preserve Iraq’s territorial integrity and build up Iraq against Iran and ISIS. Let ISIS and the rebels fight it out with Assad, take on the winner if that turns out to be ISIS. Or, maybe, if it turns out to be Assad. But the Russians and Iranians won’t just sit by on the sidelines for that. The Russians have been hacking White House computers and probing our air defenses from Europe to Alaska to Japan.
Driving ISIS out of Iraq is a long-term strategy that requires a significant number of American boots on the ground in Iraq to accomplish, since Iraq’s security forces have proven themselves incapable of defeating ISIS on their own. But, it’ll never happen. Obama doesn’t want to put more troops on the ground and he is obviously not gung ho to take on Islamist enemies. He and his lieutenants prefer to slam Israel.
When Obama held up Yemen and Somalia as examples of what he considers to be successful counterterrorism, he meant it, and that means that ISIS is here to stay. Al Qaeda operates fairly freely in both Yemen and Somalia, and what government there is in both countries is weak and tends to change hands. The way things are going, according to Obama’s stated strategy, ISIS will be a problem for the next president to deal with.